Blogpost: Water of Life - Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch

Posted by T • June 26, 2020

Posted by T • June 26, 2020

Water of Life - Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky


For anyone following our Water of Life series, the fact that I harbour a weak spot for anything that is distilled on the Hebridean island Islay should not come as a surprise as I love the iodine coastal flavours, amplified by the idiosyncratic local peat that ignites the bonfires the flames of which caress the top of your mouth.

Enjoying Islay whiskies is more often than not perceived to be a stage that the unexperienced palate has to work up to, via detours through the glens of the Speyside, Highlands and other territory that proffers more accessible drops.

Be it as it may and no matter where your starting point or malt preference is, the journey through the world of whisky is ever evolving and Smokehead is an example par excellence for new products constantly being added to the fold.

There are eight distilleries on Islay and chances are that once you fall prey to the beautifully pungent assault that their flavourful emissions exert on you, you will be at least vaguely familiar with their individual characteristics.

Every time a new drop from Islay emerges, especially one whose origin is not disclosed, one cannot help but be intrigued as to its origin.

Smokehead is being bottled by Ian Macleod distillers, who are responsible for an array of great whiskies, who own the unpeated Glengoyne distillery and the Speyside sleeper in Tamdhu.

I will focus on Smokehead’s three core variations, the first core one of which should be one that can be tracked down relatively easy from your local liquor dealer ship.

Bottled at 43%, the glowing tan coloured hits the nostrils with wafts of wet woody smoke, that is accentuated by caramelly, seaweedy toffee notes. Given the telling name, there are no big surprises here.

What materializes on the palate is far from complex, however, there is an interesting build-up: Resting on a solid foundation of peat, coffee notes and burnt ham flavours are punctuated by citrussy and spicy peppery highlights.

Adding a few droplets of water, brings chocolatey flavours out, which seamlessly transition into a mellow finish.

Given the affordable pricing and contemporary black and gold packaging adorned with the trademark smoking skull, this entry level Smokehead seems to be aimed at a younger audience, capitalizing on renewed interest in whisky. It offers a very approachable, perfectly drinkable drop that offers a simple enjoyment reminiscent one of a less defined and edgy very young Ardbeg – an entry point for the uninitiated, before a step is taken towards the more complex and domineering whiskies Islay has to offer.

Things get interesting with Smokehead’s Sherry Bomb expression as the nose is not only greeted by the salty campfire on the beach, one would expect, but also by vanilla-ry, orangey, darky fruity and minerally notes, that rest of a field of tobacco. Not surprisingly, giving it a bit of air and room to breathe, there smells reminiscent of a rich Bordeaux. Clean, fresh and mouth wateringly delicious.

What the aroma promised, materializes on the palate: The most subtle sweetness heralds a welcome onslaught of peaty, oaky smoke that is framed again by vanilla and orangey notes with lots of dry sherry.

An elongated smoky, finish bounces between fruity flavours via barbecued meaty flavours to sweet chocolate, with the Sherry bits sometimes reminding me of cherry lollies – which works great as the resulting total is a melange that is much greater than the sum of individual ingredients suggests.

Bottled at 48% ABV and still at the young end of the spectrum, the Sherry Bomb Smokehead is a fully flavoured and well-calibrated step up and a fun one with a modern take on the tested and tried take on Sherry that will definitely enter my rotation.

Ready to take things up a notch of three?

Here you go: Smokehead High Voltage

Now we are talking. 

As we all know and as it has been reinforced by Acca Dacca and Electric Six, per definitionem “high voltage” means an electronic potential large enough to inflict harm on living organisms, and in this case, it of course refers to the higher alcohol content.

However, high ABV is not the only trick in the bag of this expression and the aroma of gun smoke, burnt earth, vanilla, cashew nuts and spicy pepper hints at the complexity that will unfold on the palate.

Once it hits the roof of the mouth and the first wave of peaty sensations subsides, nice nuances of barley, brown sugar, iodine, brine, toffee and sweet bonfire-y peat.

The elongated well-calibrated finish meanders deliciously between sea saltiness, paprika and tobacco and as the smoke lingers, it makes one lust for another dram.

While Smokehead standard version is a good value-for-money everyday sipper, the High Voltage is definitely the gem of the Smokehead line-up and plays in another league.

Word around the campfire has that there is a limited “extra black” 18-Year-Old Smokehead variant, which after the HV experience has made it on my list to track down.


images from company website

T • June 26, 2020

More recent blogposts

Beethoven and Wagner vs Nietzsche

Posted by T • July 26, 2021

Beethoven: A life University of California Press   There is no shortage of books dedicated to the life of a composer whose legacy has never ceased to reverberate and impact music at large. Released to commemorate the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of his birth, what sets this biography apart in terms of authority is partly due to the unprecedented access … Read more

Water of Life – Limeburners and Earp Distillery

Posted by T • July 25, 2021

Water of Life – Limeburners and Earp Distillery   Over the last ten years, Australia has firmly established itself on the map of nations that produce quality malt whiskies. Slowly but steadily, rye whiskies created on terra australis have been making a splash on the scene with quite a few distilleries crafting their own incarnations of American style rye whiskey. … Read more

The Formative Years – Rugby and Canterbury

Posted by T • July 24, 2021

The Formative Years – Rugby and Canterbury I’ve covered the mecca that Washington DC proved to be as a hotbed for hardcore and punk as part of this series before, however, missed to shed light onto one of my favourite releases from the 1980s era, i.e. the vitally important split LP of the short-lived bands The Faith and Void.  While … Read more

The Formative Years – Hardcore Classics, pt. 1

Posted by T • July 23, 2021

The Formative Years – Hardcore classics pt. 1   With ZAP magazine playing a pivotal role in promoting and covering everything New York Hardcore related in a pro-active and prominent manner, Europe and specifically Germany have always been prime markets for hardcore emanating from the Big Apple.  The result was that “NYHC” became a veritable label and trademark and almost … Read more

The Formative Years - Ebullition Records

Posted by T • July 22, 2021

The Formative Years - Ebullition Records  The first time I heard about Ebullition Records was when there was talk around the campfire of that a gentleman that was known to me as a Maximum Rock’n’roll / No Answer zine contributor, i.e. Kent McClard, was planning to release a full length of one of my favourite bands from Orange County, California, … Read more

Thus Let Us Drink Beer - Holgate and Six String

Posted by T • July 18, 2021

Thus Let Us Drink Beer - Holgate Brewhouse and Six String Brewing   As we have outlined with our previous coverage of Holgate Brewhouse, over the last twenty years the Victorian brewery has established itself firmly on the forefront of innovative quality producers of ales that honour both the classic styles from the old world and the ever expanding and … Read more

Water of Life – Hellfire / Larrikin Distilleries

Posted by T • July 15, 2021

Water of Life – Hellfire Distillery / Larrikin Distillery   If you have followed this series with a modicum of interest and harbour a weak spot for fantastic, artisanal spirits, Tasmania would be doubtlessly be have made it on your to-visit list quite a while ago. Visiting the southernmost state of Australia twice a year, I never cease to discover … Read more

Water of Life – The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Posted by T • July 12, 2021

Water of Life – The Scotch Malt Whisky Society   There is certainly no shortage of whisky clubs and subscription services these days and for anyone remotely into discovering new flavour nuances and variations of their favourite bottlings, joining one can prove to be a viable option. The experience those services offer ranges from basic monthly tasting kits that might … Read more

Water of Life – Milton Rum & Mad Monkey Distillery

Posted by T • July 11, 2021

Water of Life – Milton Rum and Mad Monkey Distillery   Rum has a long and at times chequered history reaching back more than six hundred years to the times dominated by Colonialism, where it did not only serve to make pirates drunk but as a means for trade. Fast forward to the present day and the renaissance that the … Read more

The Formative Years - Kill Rock Stars

Posted by T • July 10, 2021

The Formative Years - Kill Rock Stars  It would have been around 1992 that I first came about a new label that seemed to have its focus firmly set on releasing its friends’ records and the underground scene centred around Olympia, Washington. It did not take long for the label, its credo and overall outlook and aesthetic to manifest via … Read more